Joe Fletcher isn't the most physical defenseman in college… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
The term around the Loyola lacrosse team is "Fletched," as in the opposing attackman got "Fletched." Or when the Greyhouds' star defenseman runs away from two attackmen after stealing a ground ball, they both got "Fletched."
Loyola's Joe Fletcher might be the best defenseman in college lacrosse. He was the only college player selected to the U.S. national training roster for the 2014 World Cup, and he is a specialist, just like a face-off player.
If you want to shut down the team's top goal scoring attackman, send Fletcher. If you want to contain the opposition's most dynamic passer, send Fletcher. Regardless if it's Navy's Sam Jones or Penn State's Shane Sturgis, when he faces Loyola, he is going to see Fletcher.
And chances are he might get "Fletched."
Fletcher, a senior from Syracuse, N.Y., draws another top assignment Sunday evening when No. 5 Loyola (4-1) plays host to No. 6 and defending national champion Duke (4-1). Fletcher will go against senior attackman Jordan Wolf, the Blue Devils' leading scorer (12 goals and 10 assists this season).
They have met three previous times with Fletcher holding Wolf to five goals and two assists. That might not sound overwhelming, but Wolf scored 121 goals in his first three seasons.
"That's a great matchup to watch from the sidelines," Loyola coach Charley Toomey said. "Jordan is a tremendous player with great all-around speed and skill, and he has that ability to turn the corner and score. Jordan will win a few and then Joe will win a few. It's just special."
Fletcher is a fundamentalist who has speed, quickness and strength. At 6 feet 2 and 190 pounds, he isn't going to bully many attackmen, but he can finesse them.
He is like a walking library when it comes to dissecting attackmen. He spends several hours a week in film preparation and welcomes the challenge of taking on the quarterback of opposing teams.
"Jordan does a lot of things well," Fletcher said of Wolf. "He runs so hard, and even when he catches the ball he never stops. He dodges and he is a great finisher. When he goes to the goal, he goes hard.
"It will be a challenge, but it's always a lot of fun. I get an assignment for every game, and it is usually against the other team's most creative player. I try not to think about it too much and the coaches tell me just to go out and play. I know that if I screw up and make a mistake my teammates will cover for me. You have to have that trust in each other."
That's vintage Fletcher. For a player with so much talent, he is extremely modest. He is the first player on the field and always the last off because he is still trying to locate that last lost ball.
He never talks about himself unless he mentions his teammates, especially goalie Jack Runkel.
There is an image of dominating defensemen being big, physical and overwhelming. Fletcher doesn't play that way.
"Physical, I've been trying to be more physical lately," Fletcher said, laughing.
He has plenty of other weapons.
"He is the most fundamentally sound defenseman in Loyola history," Toomey said. "He is always watching and learning. He has great balance and is always in proper position. He is terrific off the ground. He isn't the most impressive guy getting off the bus, but shortly after the game has started the attackman he is guarding wants to swap."
Besides adding more of a physical presence Toomey has encouraged Fletcher to become more vocal as a team leader. It's a work in progress, but he's getting better.
Fletcher admits he is a nerd who could have gone to Penn, Cornell or Drexel. Instead, he wanted a small Jesuit school and settled on Loyola. He is an accounting major and likes to read Harry Potter novels as much as crunching numbers. If he isn't playing lacrosse or reading, Fletcher is somewhere playing basketball, because he still thinks he is a power forward.
But he has embraced the leadership role and is teaching his teammates some of the things he learned with the U.S. national squad.
"It was great to have an assistant coach on that team like Dave Pietramala," said Fletcher, referencing the Johns Hopkins head coach. "He was one of the best defensemen of all time, and what I learned is about communicating and how that can take your defense to another level. It was a great experience, and I'm just happy to bring that back to our locker room. It was great to play against some of the guys I grew up watching."
It's now great playing against some of the top scorers in the college game. Fletcher knows them and they know Fletcher. They don't want to get "Fletched," a term that originated when Fletcher was at West Genesee High in New York.
"My uncles and my father started it and it just kind of carried over here," said Fletcher.
It was well-earned, and still well-deserved.